Just The Facts: “There have not been any documented cases of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing”

If you’re one of the few who happen to oppose the responsible development of shale gas general, and the key technology needed to produce it — hydraulic fracturing — in particular, chances are you’ve spun yourself around one or both of the following talking points: 1) That the solutions used in the fracturing process are “secret,” and 2) notwithstanding that apparent “secrecy,” you happen to know for a fact that they’re dangerous. And further: that their mere existence equals instant water contamination.

Be honest: Do you fall into one of these categories? If so, please, read on. Turns out a recent memo to Congressman Henry Waxman – chairman of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – from the co-chairs of the bipartisan House Natural Gas Caucus gives an unvarnished overview of fracturing’s long and clear record of safety and transparency. In the memo authored by Congressmen Dan Boren (Okla.) and Tim Murphy (Pa.), the duo writes this at it relates to fracturing fluids:

“[C]ertainly you must know that federal law mandates that Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) be kept on-hand at every wellsite in America when chemicals are present, and further, that those sheets include an accounting of the identities of those chemicals with identified risks used in the fracturing process.  Indeed, the vast majority of these information sheets can be found readily and easily on the Internet. As you indicate, a number of states today post this information in full view of the public online.”

Shale gas development, enabled by properly-regulated hydraulic fracturing, continues to be a potent job-creation engine, even during this generational economic downturn. To that, the congressmen write:

“Consider that in just the past few years, more than 100,000 high-wage jobs have been created in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania alone, all of them tied to the responsible development of American natural gas, and every bit of that made possible thanks to the safe and steady deployment of fracturing technology.”

“At a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, and in a year in which four million Americans lost their jobs, shale gas exploration represents a proven and powerful engine of economic growth – and one this Congress idles at the peril of those it represents.”

As for the FRAC Act – that would for the first time in U.S. history give the federal government carte blanch to regulated hydraulic fracturing – the Natural Gas Caucus co-chairmen lay out these facts:

“Unfortunately, those who support the FRAC Act appear to believe the mere existence of small amounts of chemical additives in the fracturing solution represents a circumstance sufficient for public drinking water supplies to become contaminated.

“The reality, however, is that these materials are well known to those who regulate the process, and are managed in a way that eliminates virtually any risk of those components coming into contact with shallow reservoirs bearing potable water. Wells drilled today incorporate thousands of feet (and many layers) of steel casing, and thousands of pounds of cement – every bit of that installed using a time-tested engineering process and precise instrumentation to ensure what’s happening inside the wellbore remains in complete isolation from what naturally exists outside of it.”

So what are other independent professionals, regulators and major newspapers saying about hydraulic fracturing? In a Buffalo News column today entitled “We must take full advantage of Marcellus Shale,” petroleum geologist David Copley writes this:

“Notwithstanding exaggerated fears of damage to ground water systems, the ramp-up in shale-gas production has been the best economic and environmental news in years. Thanks to the use of new drilling techniques combined with a decades-old process known as hydraulic fracturing, energy companies are now able to access deposits of shale gas that were considered out of reach a few years ago. … New York State is also beefing up its regulation of hydraulic fracturing to ensure that the risk to ground water supplies is extremely remote. In fact, there have not been any documented cases of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing, according to Steve Heare, director of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Protection Division.

In yesterday’s Gillette (WY) News Record, Tom Doll, supervisor of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, says “Federal regulation is unnecessary because Wyoming already closely regulates it.” This from the article:

“We feel that we should administer our rules and regulate this and we don’t need the help of the federal government in this regard,” Doll said. “We’re doing a good job.” Federal regulations on top of state regulations would cause a lot more time and money for drilling companies that is unnecessary. Strengthening Wyoming’s rule might help keep that from happening.

And today’s Houston Chronicle, under the headline “The natural gas story,” the paper editorializes that fracturing can help “create jobs, lessen dependence on foreign energy, cut our defense costs, change our balance-of-payments picture for the better and make our air cleaner.”

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